The poorest and the disabled are hit hardest by the benefit cuts

The government's Impact Assessment shows that the poorest 10 per cent of households lose the most from the decision to raise benefits by just 1 per cent.

Just a few hours before MPs started debating the coalition's Welfare Uprating Bill, which will impose a cap of 1 per cent of benefit increases for the next three years, the government finally released its Impact Assessment (IA) of the legislation.

The document confirms that the poorest will be hit hardest by the decision not to raise benefits in line with inflation. As the table below shows, the poorest tenth of households lose the most in real terms (2 per cent of net income a week), while the second poorest tenth lose the most in cash terms (£5 a week).

The assessment also shows that, contrary to the government's assurances, the disabled will be affected. In fact, households with a disabled member are more likely to lose out than non-disabled households (34 per cent compared to 27 per cent). This is because, in the words of the IA, "those who report themselves as being disabled are more likely to qualify for those benefits which are affected by the policy change". Given this finding, perhaps it's not surprising that the Department for Work and Pensions waited until the last possible moment to release its assessment.

We also learn that lone parents will lose more than any other family type (£5 a week), since "they have a lower employment rate than average and also often qualify for in-work support", that women are more likely to be affected than men (33 per cent compared to 29 per cent) and that, in total, 30 per cent of all households will be affected.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will defend the government's Welfare Uprating Bill in the House of Commons today. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.